The Likeness of Shelley

The Likeness of Shelley


Sir,—In some recent interesting remarks about portraits of Shelley you quoted Dr. Dowden's reference to Miss Curran's portrait of Shelley as the only "authentic" one, and "a precious possession to those who most hold Shelley's memory dear." May I, as a devoted lover of Shelley, avow my dissent from Dr. Dowden on that point? That Miss Curran's picture is the authentic one, in the sense that there is no other of whose origin we have precise information, is of course undeniable, but it is equally certain that it is, as Dowden himself admitted, "the hasty work of an imperfectly trained amateur," and as such I cannot think it has helped us to understand the poet of Prometheus Unbound.

For surely it is not authenticity so much as artistry that in portraiture is indispensable. What we needed was an impressive view of Shelley; and this we had, all the time, though we did not know it, in the sketch made surreptitiously by West, the young artist who was painting Byron in 1822, and so met Shelley. His drawing, hastily made, but not by an imperfectly trained hand, was taken to America, and published as late as October, 1905, in the Century Magazine, with particulars which seem to leave no doubt of its genuineness. To me this portrait, and not the more authentic but far less interesting one, is the precious possession.

Yours faithfully,

Henry S. Salt
21, Cleveland Road, Brighton

The Times, April 4, 1934, p. 13